Vatican City (image credit: Wikipedia)

Vatican City (image credit: Wikipedia)

The Vatican, headquarters of the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church, has admitted to the existence of child pornography within its own walls.

Holy See chief prosecutor and Promoter of Justice, Gian Piero Milano, issued a 50-page summary on the criminal activity within the Vatican in 2014, which he read to officials at a ceremony commencing the start of the Vatican’s judicial year. In the report, Milano stated that Vatican police had uncovered “two delicate cases, of varying degrees of seriousness, of possession of child pornography material” by two high ranking priests inside the city-state in the past year.

One of the two cases involves former bishop Jozef Wesolowski, who was arrested last year on charges of child sexual abuse during his time as a papal ambassador in the Dominican Republic.   Wesolowski also possessed more than 100,000 files containing images and videos of child pornography.  He stored these images on a Vatican-owned computer, and saved others on his laptop. Vatican investigators have indicated that others were complicit in aiding and abetting Wesolowski to procure the children he abused or otherwise took part in the child sexual abuse. Furthermore, Wesolowski is suspected of belong to an “international network that extends well beyond what has emerged so far.”

The Vatican has not identified the second person under investigation, although reports indicate that the individual is a high ranking priest. Some news media claimed that the second person was Monsignor Bronislaw Morawiec, an administrator at the Roman Church of St. Mary Major Basilica. However, later reports have suggested that Morawiec was merely one of the people mentioned in Milano’s report, and is not the second man under investigation for child pornography. Rev. Federico Lombardi stated that Morawiec has already been convicted of charges of fraud in connection with the Vatican’s efforts to assure that the Holy See’s financial practices are in line with international standards.

Pope Francis has not issued a comment on these cases.

As readers of our blog and followers of our cases are undoubtedly aware, the Catholic Church has long been plagued by outbreaks of child sexual abuse epidemics. Although the Church has made public statements that it will not tolerate child sex abuse within its ranks, it has nonetheless uniformly failed to take any effective and/or substantive steps to actually accomplish these goals. For instance, the Church continues to fail to remove and laicize priests who sexually abuse children, and has not implemented better procedures to handle allegations of child sexual abuse.

Last year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child conveyed a panel which accused the Vatican of maintaining a “code of silence” (among other things) that has enabled priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children worldwide over decades with impunity. The Committee, which monitors compliance with the implementation of the UN child rights treaty, heard testimony from the Holy See on the matter, at which point the Church argued that it was not responsible implementing the treaty or otherwise monitoring the actions of its priests and members outside of the Vatican city-state.

Further, the Church claimed that the UN Report overstated the problem of the abuse epidemic in that the UN did not acknowledge statistics stating the “majority of abuse happens in the family setting and neighborhood.” However, in making this statement, the Church demonstrated its failure to recognize the true scope of the problem of child sex abuse by its priests, in that:

(1) child sex abuse by trusted priests may also be included in the category of abuse that happens “in the family setting and neighborhood,”

(2) child sex abuse reporting statistics are not always reliable indicators of prevalence, as the majority of victims do not report the abuse, and

(3) notwithstanding any hypothetical disparity in the number of children sexually abused in the “family setting or neighborhood” versus those abused by priests within the Church, no degree of child sexual abuse is ever acceptable; the mere fact that child sex abuse happens outside of the Church as well as within the Church does not excuse the Church of its obligation to protect children and hold perpetrators accountable.

The UN Investigation appeared to agree with the above assessment, as it concluded that “the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”

Many hope that the Vatican’s investigation into these two child pornography cases signals a change in the Church’s policies surrounding transparency and accountability in its handling of the sexual abuse of children. Indeed, former bishop Wesolowski is currently on house arrest awaiting criminal trial at the Vatican, in what will be the first sex abuse trial ever held at the Holy See (according to the Wall Street Journal, Wesolowski did not provide a comment on the case and would not release his lawyer’s contact information).

Although it is certainly positive that the Church has chosen to investigate this matter, these cases represent only the metaphorical drop in the bucket in terms of active and effective child abuse prevention and deterrence policies. Thus, it remains to be seen whether or not tangible, long term progress will actually result from these actions.

In the meantime, we will not yield in our mission to support survivors and hold perpetrators – and the institutions that aid and abet them – accountable. We will hope for the best, and will always continue to advocate for victims of child abuse.

If you or someone you know would like to speak with us on a confidential basis, you may call us toll-free at 1-888-407-0224 or email us at info@oandc.com.